FRANCIS ANEKWE OBORJI
Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Is it “illegal” to be a Nigerian?’ Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Are Nigerians illegal citizens of the world?’ Sometimes I would ask myself, ‘Because I am from Nigeria, so, I am an illegal citizen in the eye of the world?’ Sometimes, I would ask myself, ‘Why has my being a Nigerian, who is seeking a refuge in foreign land, made me a “thing”, an ‘illegal’ entity before the so-called ‘developed’ world and my home government too?
Moreover, after listening to my own President characterization of Nigerian citizens as ‘illegal migrants’ the other day, I asked myself, ‘Is it the Nigerian migrant that is “illegal” or the ordeal and inhuman treatment meted to him in foreign land?’ Is it the human person that is “illegal” or the maltreatment of the human person in foreign land because he is Black that is illegal?’ Is it not the abuse of the migrant’s human dignity that is “illegal?”
In her stirring speech on modern migration to make the 2016 United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day in New York, the renowned Nigerian author and novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has this to say about the fate of the modern day migrants and refugees:
“Nobody is ever just a refugee. Nobody is ever just a single thing. And yet, in the public discourse today, we often speak of people as single things. Refugee, immigrant. We dehumanize people when we reduce them to a single thing.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Address at the Humanitarian World Day” Event in New York (19 August 2016).
Adichie’s speech cited above, shows that the expression, “illegal migrants” used by President Muhammed Buhari in his recent characterization of young Nigerians in refugees’ and immigrants’ detention camps in Libya and various countries of Western Europe, is not only unfair but shows how very insensitive many of present-day African leaders are to the plight of their people, home and abroad.
Adichie’s speech has been celebrated as pointed, meaningful, and elegantly delivered. She used her parents’ experience as internally displaced people – refugees and migrants during the Biafra-Nigeria War (1967-1970), to drive home her point. She called on the world leaders and heads of governments to be more compassionate and justice-oriented in charting policies and new cause on people from troubled lands who seek refuge away from home.
Again, listening to my own President on Friday, August 31, 2018, describe as ‘illegal migrants’ his fellow countrymen and women who are humiliated in foreign lands, before the visiting German Chancellor, Angel Merkel, at Abuja, I wept not just for myself or those insulted Nigerians, but for the entire Nigerian state and Africa indeed. For an African head of state to play at the gallery of strategists of the Western neocolonialists agenda and political rhetoric, is a tragedy, we must all lament. It is a tragedy, which shows how deep and endemic our problem as Black Race and people is today!
Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Why is it that majority of African leaders find it difficult to speak up and defend the dignity and integrity of their people or state before their Western counterparts?’ When we have descended so low, to the extent of being the channel through which the outside world and modern imperial nations, justify their maltreatment of our own people – co-nationals living in foreign lands, then, it is a sign that Nigeria has ceased to be meaningful again to its citizens as a state.
Come to think of it: Will any of the Western leaders that visited Abuja in the last few days, ever describe their fellow citizens living in foreign lands, in any disguise at all, anywhere in the world, as “illegal migrants?” Go to the Niger Delta of Nigeria, or to South Africa or any other African nation with abundant natural and mineral resources, you will be shocked to see how many European citizens are staying there “illegally.”
Crosscheck with most of those foreign construction companies and factories in Nigeria or any other African country, you will be shocked to see how many citizens of those our “Western friends” are working in Africa “illegally,” that is unregistered foreigners in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. The question we must therefore be worried about is, ‘Why are African leaders so quick to join foreigners in stereotyping and condemning their fellow Africans?’
Again, sometimes I ask myself, ‘Why are African leaders too myopic and unpatriotic as to side always with the neocolonial agenda, anti-African racial language and vocabulary?’ When will Africa be free of unpatriotic leaders, agents of neocolonial agenda at the helm of affairs of African states? This is the crux of my questions in our present article!
I have published some articles on modern African migrations in this platform in recent times. What necessitated the present one on the same topic is the recent statement attributed to President Muhammadu Buhari, as alluded above.
According to news report, the President used the expression, “illegal migrants” in reference to Nigerian citizens trapped in Libya and Western Europe as they struggle to seek refuge in foreign lands. These are Nigerian nationals subjected to various kinds of excruciating inhuman treatments in Western countries and Libya itself. The condition of these Nigerians calls for compassion and understanding, not psychological attack or use of abusive words.
Again, by calling fellow Nigerian citizens, “illegal migrants”, it shows how most of African leaders today have played themselves into the hands of the neocolonial agenda of modern imperial powers of the West. Otherwise, what on earth could have inspired an African Head of State, to call his fellow citizens “illegal” human beings? These same Africans being called “illegal migrants” by their own President are the same people Pope Francis recently, described as victims of a new form of slavery.
If not for anything, at least, the adversity these young Africans go through, the total negation of their human dignity and freedom through the deceptive policy and severe immigration laws of the West, could have elicited a more humane approach and compassionate choice of language from our President. The inhuman treatment of African immigrants in the West, what they go through traversing Sahara Desert and attempting to cross Mediterranean Sea to Europe, under inhuman conditions, means that characterizing them as “illegal” human beings, is not only unfair, but the highest form of violation of human dignity and legality.
By calling these young Africans “illegal” humans, it means that only the rich, those who could obtain Visas and fly Airplane to travel to Europe from Africa, are “legal” human beings. Since when have the poor become “illegal” citizens? Are they “illegal” beings simply, because they defiled man made barriers and discriminative laws in order to travel abroad?
CREATE AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT IN NIGERIA TO CURB THE MIGRATIONS
The plight of African migrants today, especially in the West and the Asian giant countries, should have moved any compassionate and patriotic African leader to do something about creating an enabling environment at home to attract our talented and teeming young population back to their homeland. One would have expected our President to tell his august visitor from German, what his administration is doing towards making Nigerians to stay back home instead of seeking refuge in foreign land.
It is no longer secret that Nigeria is experiencing what many have described as brain-draining of its talented people who have migrated to foreign lands, because of lack of enabling environment in the land. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Indians, and people from other West African countries and elsewhere where flocking to Nigeria to live and work because we had relatively enviable enabling environment then. Suddenly all those things changed. Almost all the great Nigerian university professors, medical doctors, engineers, etc. have left Nigeria in the last thirty years because of the failure of Nigerian government to create an enabling environment for bright people to thrive in the country.
This is why one feels very dismayed hearing the use that expression “illegal migrants” in reference to those young Africans trapped between Libya and the Mediterranean Coast of the Western Europe. According to news report, our President while playing host to the visiting German Chancellor, Angel Merkel at Abuja on Friday, August 31, 2018, warned Nigerians who continue to migrate from the country through ‘illegal’ routes, despite the inherent dangers, that they are on their own. He said such people make the uncertain trip at their own risk. This is what the President said:
“Firstly, I am against those my countrymen and women that illegally travel to Europe. … We have made it very clear that we do not support anything illegal and anybody who feels this country does not offer him what he should be offered as a citizen, and decides to defy the desert and the Mediterranean, is doing it at his own risk.” – President Muhammed Buhari.
After going through the above statement of the President, I got more worried for my people and country. I become more worried, because, if we are to digest very well his words, what he meant in effect is that Nigeria as state has no plan and no response, not just to the inhuman treatment of its citizens in foreign lands, but especially, to the mass exodus of Nigerian youths, migrating to foreign lands. Thus, his statement: “Anybody who feels this country does not offer him what he should be offered as a citizen, and decides to defy the desert and the Mediterranean, is doing it at his own risk.”
HUMAN MOBILITY IS PART OF HUMAN HISTORY
Human mobility is part of human history. It is Biblical. The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11, about the dispersal of various nations, signaled the beginning of migrations. It is followed by Genesis chapter 12, the call of Abraham by God to leave his fatherland to an unknown place. This is another classical example of how God blessed human mobility.
Moreover, in recent history, the movement of European people from their fatherland to the lands of native Americans, Africans and Asians, beginning from the 16th Century, shows the hypocrisy of all those who are now promulgating anti-immigration laws against Africans and other people from the southern continents in the West. Here it suffices to mention the permanent settling of Europeans two hundred years ago in Southern African countries of South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, etc. The unfortunate introduction of Apartheid racist regime in South Africa and Zimbabwe by the European settlers in a bid to protect their colonial interests as permanent settlers in Africa? Today those European settlers in Africa are as citizens as native Africans in those African countries.
The fact is that the same conditions that made the people of Europe to migrate to the southern continents five hundred and two hundred years ago and settled there till today, are the same conditions that are forcing these African migrants and others towards Northward migration today. The tyrannical regimes of European Kings, Queens and Nobles, as well as the rivalry wars between them and the religious hierarchies of the Medieval Era, extreme cold weather, hunger and inter-tribal wars among various European tribes, all contributed in the European Southward migrations five hundred, and two hundred years ago into Africa and elsewhere.
While the migrating Europeans had power over their hosts, the migrating Africans typified the Biblical notion of migration, taking of risks and vulnerability. Moreover, there was no time in the known history of humankind when migrants are called “illegal” human beings. It is only in our own time that such an inhuman expression is trying to gain acceptability, thanks to the growing anti-immigration laws sweeping through the countries of the West.
When I read what the President said about the Nigerian migrants, I asked myself, “Does it mean that the Nigerian government is incapable of making Nigeria an attractive country, a home for all its citizens? So that instead of our youth fleeing the country in such an alarming number, they would rather choose to remain at home and make their contribution in making Nigeria great again’
Seeing how Nigeria has been drifting swiftly into an abyss of a failed state in recent times, under the so-called democratically elected governments, sometimes I ask myself, ‘Does it mean that the government has given up the Nigerian project – building of a country, where every citizen will live happily and be proud to call a home?’
In other words, ‘Does it mean that Nigerian government today have given up the project of building a country where the state is always ready to come to the defense and rescue of its citizens anywhere in the world?’ A country where justice, freedom, equity, security of life and property reigns. A country where the rule of law and order, as well as respect of human life and human dignity of all its citizens are jealously protected and held high by those at the corridors of power!
When I reflect on the President characterization of Nigerians, maltreated in foreign lands, as “illegal migrants”, my mind goes immediately to the plight of those other Nigerian migrants being drowned in their hundreds as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea with Balloon ships, Nigerians dying every day in different immigrants’ detention camps in Libya and various European countries.
I am reminded of those 26 Nigerian ladies, who died last year as they struggled to survive the traversing of the Mediterranean Sea in Balloon ships. These poor Nigerian ladies were buried in foreign land, courtesy of Italian government, with little or no participation of the Nigerian state. There are countless number of such incidents about Nigerians dying every day in foreign lands, with little or no assistance from their home government, the Nigerian state.
These are Nigerian migrants, whose experiences are those of total abandonment by their home government, at critical moments of their humiliation in foreign land. Their ordeal is not just “illegal”, but tells us that, we as a people are stateless. If the Nigerian state cannot defend and come to the rescue of its citizens suffering in foreign land, that means Nigeria is already a failed state.
Again, when I reflect on the President characterization of Nigerians in foreign lands as “illegal migrants”, I remember those Nigerians being killed every day in various countries of the West and especially in the following Asian countries: India, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, etc. This is not to talk of the scandalous xenophobic killings of Nigerians living in South Africa and Kenya. ‘African xenophobia against fellow Africans – Africans killing themselves is one of the highest scandals of the 21st Century.’ It is also a sign of how weak leadership has taken grip of the political landscape of the continent.
All these atrocities and crimes against humanity are being committed on daily basis against Nigerians living in foreign lands, with little or no response from the Nigerian state. This is why it beats any imagination that instead of showing solidarity and purposefulness of leadership in this matter, someone would use the expression “illegal migrants” for these Nigerian victims of new severe anti-immigration laws in the West and their allied Asian giants.
Sometimes when I think of the attitude of the Nigerian government to its citizens, home and abroad, I ask myself, ‘Does it mean that Nigerian leaders do not know that the respect their citizens living in abroad receive depends to a large extent on how the country is organized and governed back home. If Nigeria as a nation state is well organized and governed properly at home, its citizens living abroad would be respected by their host country. The humiliation of Nigerian nationals in various parts of the world today is because the world knows that Nigeria is not well organized and governed. Any moment the country is fixed and governed well, citizens of Nigeria will be accorded the respect due to them anywhere they live in the world.
Therefore, if Nigerians are humiliated in different parts of the world today it is because, back home, their country is not well organized and governed as to cater for the primary duty of the state of protecting the rights and privileges of their citizens anywhere in the world. Again, Nigerians will cease to be humiliated and killed recklessly in foreign lands, once the government back home is well organized and people-oriented.
In fact, after listening to the President calling Nigerian citizens “illegal migrants”, I asked myself, ‘Does it mean that our President had forgotten that the expression “illegal migrants” as is being used today and in reference to Africans, came from Parliamentarian legislation in European countries, which are dominated by members of neo-Fascist and other Extreme Right-Wing Parties, their anti-immigration laws? The European extreme right parties, in recent times, have started to win elections in many Western countries.
Politicians from extreme right-wing parties nowadays dominate the discussion and legislation on immigration laws in their respective European countries. One of their major characteristics is that they are notoriously racists and anti-Africans. They are offshoots and remnants of former Fascist, Nazi governments and ideologues of the yester years.
WHAT NIGERIANS EXPECTED FROM THEIR PRESIDENT
When I read what the President said about Nigerian migrants the other day, I remembered a story my late uncle told us when he bought a colored Television set for the first time in those days. My uncle told us how he was distressed one evening, coming back from work and discovered that his children sneaked out to a neighbor’s house who had a colored Television to listen to News and watch other TV programs there. This is why he decided to save money from his meagre salary in order to provide Television in his house for his children, so that nobody would have any reason to sneak out again to their neighbors’ house because of Television.
What everyone expected from the President was to tell his august guest, German Chancellor Merkel and the world what the government of Nigeria has done and is doing to make the country an attractive homeland for all its citizens. What the Nigerian government has done and is doing in providing an enabling environment in the country so that our youths don’t have to take the risk of traversing Sahara Deserts on foot and crossing Mediterranean in Balloon ships in search of greener pasture elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this is what the President told the world that Nigerian government has in stock for the returning Nigerian refugees and migrants:
“But if he (Nigerian migrant) is stuck somewhere in Libya between his final destination and Nigeria, we will rescue him and bring him back home and send him back to his local government.” – President Muhammed Buhari, Abuja, 31, 2018.
The fact is that if there are jobs in the local government areas of the migrating Nigerian youth, he would not have thought of leaving the country at all. Again, if the country had fixed things in those local government areas, created an enabling environment for bright people to thrive and work there, nobody needs to remind the Nigerian migrants to come back home.
By saying that all the Nigerian state could do is to see to the repatriation of migrant Nigerians trapped in Libya and the West, the government is invariably, telling them, please we have no program for you. Therefore, we send you back to your respective local government areas from where you ran away in search of greener pastures in foreign lands.
In this way, Nigerian government is telling the returnee migrants that we have no program for you as Nigerian citizens, so go back to your villages and if you like, kill yourselves there or be killed gradually by hunger. ‘Otherwise, Boko Haram or Fulani herdsmen will be sent to your villages to quicken the job.’
This reminds one of the Gospel story of the Multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish, told in varying detail by all four Evangelists. Of particular importance is the response of Jesus to His Apostles when they wanted him to send the crowd away, back to their villages and cities because they hadn’t enough bread to feed such a multitude of people (Matthew 14:15-21). But Jesus resisted that attempt by his own disciples to send the crowd away because of bread to eat. This is what Jesus’ response in the story confirms: “There is no need to send the people away, “You yourselves give them something to eat.”
As I argued in an earlier article where this gospel episode was discussed in some details, Jesus has a different view. For Jesus, the problem will not be solved by sending the crowds back to the villages. Neither is it a question of lack of commitment by the crowds in providing their own needs, which can be easily addressed through alms giving or moral and spiritual motivation. The problem has to do with rethinking the system on which the society has been built – a system that was never intended (or built from the bottom up) to respond to the basic social needs of the crowds but rather to serve the interest of the minority ruling class.
This is a society the crowds are running away from because it has failed in its basic duty of providing security of lives and other social needs for the poor masses. This is what this episode is all about. It is not different from what is forcing these young Africans to leave their fatherland, risk their lives, enduring excruciating hardship and humiliation in search of greener pastures in foreign land.
Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Is the modern African migrations, not an invitation to rethink the dishonest bilateral trade agreements and Protocols Africa entered with the foreign powers in the past?’ Is the challenges of the modern African migrations not an invitation to rethink our practice of politics and social engagement with one another, our behavior towards our fellow citizens, and migrants alike?
The question is – are we committed towards creating a new story, capable of ushering in a different story that reproduces and makes real the foundational narrative of the multiplication of five loaves and two fish in our Nigerian political landscape? Unless that is done, the country will be ready for more exodus of its teeming younger populations to foreign lands.